What would it be like to hear the voice of God or his emissaries? Not an intuitive prayerful dialogue and raised spiritual consciousness but an actual thundering voice or even an apparition. What lengths would you go to experience this grace if you could? What lengths would you go to deny ever having had such an experience? The Hollywood portrait above is inspiring. But how about this version:
Hearing the voice of God or seeing an apparition is perhaps the highest form of Mysticism. Catholics practice mysticism every day. An interesting Blog (the Main Event) describes our mystical beliefs in a review of the “war” between reason and mysticism.[i] The blog interest me as its intent is to provide a forum for the proponents of each camp and sets up a dialectic that is very real in today’s world. It presumes you cannot be both a person of reason and mysticism. There is a cultural war to deny the existence of a “God” and all forms of mysticism on one side and to assert the existence of a God on the other. The more extreme the mystical experience – the more extreme the attacks become by non-believers – and in some cases rightly so. Authentic spiritual revelation is claimed by many in the course of history under many different names for many different purposes.
The story of Joan of Arc (Jehanne of Arc) exemplifies the difficulties in receiving a “Personal charism to witness god”[ii] and follow the message you have received. The Catechism of the Catholic Church accepts people are chosen for such revelations. They are chosen to share God’s word and vision – often at great expense to their own worldly status.
Pope Benedict the XVI excellently depicted her persecution by the Church itself as he stated on January 26, 2011 that the trial of Joan of Arc as a “is a distressing page in the history of holiness and also an illuminating page on the mystery of the Church which, according to the words of the Second Vatican Council, is “at once holy and always in need of purification” (Lumen Gentium, n. 8).” [iii]
This is interesting given a current controversy in the Church. Certain Bishops have taken umbrage with the Pope on statements like “The contemporary world risks confusing the primacy of conscience, which must always be respected, with the exclusive autonomy of an individual with respect to his or her relations.” Pope Francis went on to say priests must inform Catholic consciences “but not replace them.”[iv] What does he mean?
My opinion is that he recognizes the church has a rich tradition and is the defacto representative of authentic scripture and revelation but it is still up to the individual to follow their consciences and free will accepting the consequences according to their own spiritual discernment and God’s grace. The Church is a guide but you remain an apostle and responsible for your own actions whether you live within or external to church doctrine. In essence, if you seek God and truly use spiritual discernment including using the gifts of sacred tradition and revelation, prayer and consult, you are yourself a mystic – perhaps not on the level of Joan of Arc – but a mystic nonetheless called to pray, act, and yes, sometimes suffer.
Joan of Arc canonization process started in 1855 and culminated in Sainthood in 1920. A peasant who opposed the Church teachings and doctrines, defied papal authority, is made a saint 489 years after her death. Saint Joan did not receive consolation from this world but from God. Declaring her a Saint is our consolation for our miserable attempts with wielding “Scriptural Authority” and power over the centuries and a need for continual purification with our application of Holy Scripture. The Church has that challenge. However, what is your challenge to be a mystic? Do you have a charism?
As for the book, the author has successfully provided a fictional account that includes a high degree of historical accuracy combined with spiritual imagination to see the events from the eyes of a fifteenth century peasant girl called by God to perform unthinkable heroic acts.
St. Joan has a rich prayer life. If you are interested in seeking God I find Ignatian Spiritual exercises helpful at times when prayer is difficult.[v] One contemplative method is to take any Gospel scene of interest and place yourself in the crowd or in the shoes of one of the characters and really explore your visceral response to the scene, to the words, and how you would respond if you were actually there than or how you would respond now is similar circumstance. Now more than ever women are called to stand strong. Men should help when they can as they would help anyone of either gender fight for what is right and just.